Editor’s Note: With the announcement that Amtrak would seek funding for a proposed Gateway Tunnel from New Jersey to New York City, one-time Second Ave. Sagas guest writer Jeremy Steinemann started a new blog called Gateway Gab. He’s going to track the progress of the Gateway Tunnel there, and he is allowing me to post some of his analysis here as well.
Yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie viewed the Gateway announcement as a vindication of his decision to cancel ARC, but as Steinemann explains in the post below, Christie is off base. From the cost comparisons to the benefits to his state’s commuters, Christie and his criticisms shouldn’t enjoy a moment in the sun, and although Gateway would help alleviate the congestion into and out of New York City, it doesn’t have the same impact for commuters as ARC would have. What follows is Steinemann’s analysis.
As part of yesterday’s announcement of the proposed Amtrak Gateway Tunnel, Senator Frank Lautenberg’s (NJ-D) office has released a comparison of the three trans-hudson tunnel projects: Gateway, the now-defunct ARC tunnel, and the 7 train to Secaucus. This nifty chart is available at Lautenberg’s website, but take a look:
If anything, the chart is a testament to just how beneficial the ARC Tunnel promised to be, noting, for example, that ARC promised to connect commuters to the subway lines at Herald Square. The biggest difference between the two projects, however, are the compromises that Gateway requires of NJ Transit. For passengers on trains from Bergen, Passaic, Rockland and Orange Counties on the Main-Bergen and Pascack Valley lines, Gateway will not provide the long-promised, one-seat ride to Manhattan (at least not at first).
Furthermore, NJ Transit will have to coordinate operating control of the new tunnels. The current tunnels — technically known as the North River Tunnels — are controlled solely by Amtrak, whose trains take precedence over NJ Transit — wreaking havoc on the commuting schedule when an inter-city train is delayed. In contrast, ARC promised a set of tunnels operated solely by NJ Transit. The details of the Gateway operating arrangement are not clear, but improvements over the current arrangement are essential. Finally, as I noted yesterday, Gateway increases NJ Transit’s peak train capacity by only 13 additional trains, as opposed to ARC’s 24 additional trains.
The Gateway project, however, also includes a grab-bag of brand new items. Whereas ARC mentioned it as a possible future project, new access for Metro North at Penn Station is a full component of Gateway. In fact, a presentation on Lautenberg’s site promises capacity for six hourly trains on Metro North’s New Haven and Hudson Lines. The Harlem Line would not have access to the station.
In addition, Gateway’s new Penn Station South adds four new platforms serving seven tracks underground between 30th and 31st streets from 7th Ave. to just west of 8th Ave. Finally, Amtrak’s proposal also suggests extending the 7 train not westward but eastward from its future terminus at 34th St. and 10th Ave to Penn Station. It seems the cost of this extension is not factored into Gateway’s estimated price.
A critical benefit of Gateway, that is not being widely touted, is the system redundancy that the connectivity to Penn Station provides. The ARC tunnels were to be completely separate from the existing Penn tubes. If, for some reason, a train dies in one tunnel, as happens frequently now, the Gateway tunnels will provide a back-up. Due to the complicated nature of the train platforms underneath Moynihan station, however, it seems impossible for NJ Transit and Amtrak to utilize three of the four tunnels for peak-directional flow as the LIRR currently permits in its four tunnels under the East River.
The price comparisons between Gateway and ARC, reported at $13.5 billion and $10 billion respectively, are also misleading. The Gateway Tunnel also includes the Portal Bridge Replacement project, which ARC critics demanded should have been considered part of ARC’s total cost. Like ARC and the Portal Bridge projects, Gateway will double the right-of-way from Newark Penn Station to New York Penn Station from two to four tracks. Any changes to the connection between the Northeast Corridor and NJT’s Morris & Essex and Montclair Lines (located just west of the Portal Bridge) remain unclear at this time.
To view the full PDF presentation on Gateway, click here.